Shaheen Joins Bipartisan Group Calling on VA to Address Impact of Afghanistan Withdrawal on Veterans’ Mental Health

August 31, 2021

Senators Call on VA to Increase Outreach to Veterans of Afghanistan and the Global War on Terrorism by Providing Access to Mental Health Services and Care

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) joined U.S. Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and a bipartisan group of Senators calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to swiftly develop and conduct outreach to veterans of the Global War on Terrorism – especially those who served in Afghanistan – to provide them with mental health resources. Their call for action comes as reports find calls to veterans’ suicide hotlines have increased since the fall of Kabul earlier this month.

“We write in light of the recent events in Afghanistan to encourage the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to quickly develop a comprehensive outreach plan to connect Afghanistan and Global War on Terrorism veterans to VA benefits and services,” wrote the Senators. “More than two million veterans served during the Global War on Terrorism, including more than 800,000 in Afghanistan, and these service members deserve and earned the support that they need. We appreciate the VA’s commitment to providing mental health services to all veterans and ask, in light of the current situation, that the Department accelerate its efforts to provide resources – to veterans of these recent conflicts.”

In their letter, the Senators note that veterans between the ages of 18 to 34 have the highest suicide rate among former service members and that many veterans do not use the Veterans Health Administration services which provides many mental health resources geared at preventing suicide among service members. 

“For this reason, we ask that the VA develop a comprehensive outreach plan to connect Afghanistan and Global War on Terrorism veterans to VA benefits and services. This plan must proactively contact veterans in the coming months through means including, but not be limited to: digital correspondence, social media, phone calls, and text messages,” the Senators continued. “Furthermore, VA's outreach should consist of detailed information on clinical mental health services and community-based support systems, such as Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) and VA Vet Centers. For example, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is just one of many VSOs that helps connect veterans to services critical to mental health and overall well-being.”

“This has been an incredibly challenging time for the veteran community and VA must ensure that there is a sustained, comprehensive plan to reach veterans and connect them with potentially life-saving resources both within the VA and through VSOs, such as Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America’s (IAVA) Quick Reaction Force (QRF),” said Jeremy Butler, IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America) CEO. “We thank Senators Maggie Hassan, Joni Ernst, Bill Cassidy, and Raphael Warnock and all of the Senators that signed onto this important letter to ensure that the VA is doing everything that they can to help our veterans during this difficult time.”

New Hampshire Veterans of Foreign Wars State Commander Russell “Chuck” Norris praised the effort, stating, “The New Hampshire Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) supports any effort to contact, register and provide care for ALL eligible Veterans. As the current crisis unfolds it may well prove that other conflict Veterans will also need additional care.

In addition to Senators Shaheen, Hassan, Ernst, Cassidy and Warnock, co-signers of the letter include Baldwin (D-WI), Bennet (D-CO), Braun (R-IN), Cantwell (D-WA), Capito (R-WV), Casey (D-PA), Collins (R-ME), Cortez Masto (D-NV),  Crapo (R-ID), Daines (R-MT), Durbin (D-IL), Grassley (R-IA), Hickenlooper (D-CO), Hoeven (R-ND), Kaine (D-VA), Kelly (D-AZ), Klobuchar (D-MN), Leahy (D-VT), Marshall (R-KS), Peters (D-MI), Portman (R-OH), Reed (D-RI), Risch (R-ID), Rosen (D-NV), Schatz (D-HI), Smith (D-MN), Thune (R-SD), Van Hollen (D-MD), Warner (D-VA), and Wyden (D-OR).

See the full text of the letter here.

Senator Shaheen has worked tirelessly to advocate on behalf of Granite State veterans. Earlier this year, a key bipartisan bill she helped introduce to support veterans was signed into law – the Deborah Sampson Act – which eliminates barriers to care and services that many women veterans face and would help ensure that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can address the needs of women veterans. Additionally, Shaheen was a cosponsor of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, which was signed into law in 2019, and will create a permanent legislative fix to help ensure “Blue Water” Navy veterans get the disability and health care benefits they deserve as a result of exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. The fiscal year 2021 NDAA that became law included an amendment supported by Shaheen that requires the VA to provide benefits for veterans suffering from diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange. 

In 2018, Senator Shaheen worked to include a provision in the VA MISSION Act – which was signed into law – ensuring every veteran in New Hampshire has access to care in the community. This was a top priority for Shaheen as New Hampshire does not have a full-service VA medical facility. Under the previous VA community care program, Senator Shaheen introduced the Veterans Choice Card Prompt Payment Act to expedite payment to providers who serve veterans.